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U.S. Traveler Trends Part 2: Vacationing to the Max or Just to Relax?

Many would-be travelers have dreamt about their post-pandemic vacations as a means of mentally escaping their zoom-marathon workdays. Even as they finally make their vacation fantasies a reality, some travelers will keep COVID-19 concerns top of mind. Others, however, are throwing caution - and their masks - to the wind. Redneck Raves and viral TikTok birthday parties aside, iolite research [1] finds that nearly one third of U.S. travelers aim to go all out on their vacations this year. The study shows it is not just young singles who want to party. Who else is going to make up for lost time? And what desires are travelers most eager to fulfill this year?

Go Big or Stay Home

Not surprisingly, millennials lead other age groups as the most ambitious with their vacation plans. They are the only age group that is more likely to go all out (44%) versus vacationing as they would have pre-pandemic (40%). However, parents with preadolescent kids (43%) are another group that is far more likely than other travelers (26%) to go all out. It is not the overlap between millennial and parent groups that drives this trend – millennials (whether they have kids or not) and parents (across age groups) are more likely to go all out. Despite vaccinations not yet being approved for children under 12, there is no meaningful difference between parents and non-parents when it comes to keeping it simple and limiting activity because of COVID-19. This lack of a difference again demonstrates that the vast majority of parents consider the risk of illness to be low enough that they do not need to worry about their kids.

Tonight I’m Gonna Party like it’s…2019

Despite a sizeable group of ambitious vacationers, more travelers (51%) are happy to simply pick up where they left off. Older travelers are more likely to fall into this group of consistent travelers, who have developed stronger preferences for how they like to vacation. Two thirds of boomers will travel the same way they did pre-pandemic. For many in this consistent group, taking any kind of vacation is enough of an indulgence. The silent generation is understandably more concerned about COVID-19; despite high vaccination rates, one third of this group will keep it simple and another 8% are planning very limited activities.

Some Seek Thrills, But Most Just Want to Chill

For a slight majority of travelers (58%), vacations will be predominantly about rest and relaxation in the next year. The stress and mental burden of the pandemic has left many feeling edgy and burnt out more than lonely or bored. These relaxation seekers are typically part of the group who will vacation as they usually do. But for the rest of travelers, stimulation is a stronger priority. As mentioned above, parents are more likely to go all out on their vacations this year and as you might expect, engaging their children in activities is a top priority for many of them. From there, travel priorities splinter into smaller groups.

Some priorities go hand in hand – adventure seekers are often particularly interested in nature and the great outdoors. Culture seekers are often interested in engaging with locals. Other priorities are naturally opposites; adventure seekers are not striving to stay in their comfort zone. Some of these priorities change with age while others reflect more permanent preferences. The strongest age shifts in travel priorities occur with adventure, which decreases with age, and relaxation and comfort zone, which increase with age. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of boomer adventure seekers (27%) and Gen Z comfort zoners (23%)

Marketing Implications

The distinction between traveler moods is quite clear. Many are seeking a calming salve for sore eyes and stiff backs while others can’t wait to finally do everything they’ve been dreaming about IRL. Parents are eager to give their kids a change of scenery and the fun they have been missing. Young singles are ready to party (though that’s pretty much always a given). There are two key takeaways for marketers:

• COVID is no longer a specter haunting our vacation dreams – the vast majority are going to do as much if not more on their vacations than they would have before.

• The diversity of interests is back – it’s not just beaches and campgrounds that have widespread relevance. Urban destinations will certainly be challenged to make up for the near-term loss of corporate and group business, but urban leisure interest will be robust, particularly given how expensive resort pricing has become.

Our next piece in this series will explore a new type of trip born from pandemic work from home policies. As companies go back to “normal” operations, it seems that few will go back to 100% office-based work. Work location flexibility will add a new dimension for tourism marketers as a newly untethered employees consider working from “home” while on a trip. How big is this segment? Who will be taking these kinds of trips?

[1] Proprietary iolite research study fielded on June 10, 2021 by Directions Research. Respondents were a demographically representative sample of US adults, N=1,083

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